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Acoustic tags help improve salmon passage at dams

May 12, 2009 Share This!

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  • PNNL scientist Geoff McMichael sutures a juvenile Chinook salmon after implanting the fish with an acoustic-transmitting tag. The tag is part of PNNL's Juvenile Salmon Acoustic Telemetry System, which is used to track where and how deep fish travel in water.

  • Smaller than pencil erasers, acoustic-transmitting tags, lay in the palm of a gloved hand. The tags are part of PNNL's Juvenile Salmon Acoustic Telemetry System, which is used to track where and how deep fish travel in water.

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RUFUS, Ore. – Journalists are invited to attend a half-day event on May 21 to see how an innovative acoustic tag and detection system is helping scientists improve salmon passage at John Day Dam, near Rufus, Ore.

Scientists from the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Wash. and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Portland District are conducting a study using acoustic telemetry to track juvenile salmon as they pass through John Day Dam. The fish are being tracked in three dimensions, which means researchers can see how deep and where the fish travel as they approach and pass the dam.

Data is being collected to provide fishery managers with the best possible information to improve salmon passage at dams and to enhance the endangered fish’s overall health and survival. Specific improvements and tests will be explained at the event. This project shows how science can aid salmon survival throughout the Federal Columbia River Power System.

Scientists are tagging about 240 juvenile salmon a day over eight weeks for this project, which uses the Juvenile Salmon Acoustic Telemetry System (JSATS). PNNL and NOAA Fisheries began developing JSATS for the Corps of Engineers in 2001.

Just 0.43 grams and smaller than a pencil eraser, JSATS tags are the smallest acoustic tags available. After being inserted into the belly of juvenile salmon, acoustic tags emit a small sound, or “ping,” every few seconds that is detected by receivers strategically placed in waterways. Each tag transmits a different code, which allows individual fish to be identified. The receivers record the ping’s position and use that data to trace where each tagged fish travels. Understanding a fish’s path is important in building and operating salmon-friendly dams.

What: Juvenile Salmon Acoustic Telemetry System (JSATS) project media event

Specifics: Event to include: the release of tagged juvenile salmon into the Columbia River (weather permitting); observing scientists surgically implant small tags into juvenile salmon; an explanation of how JSATS tags and receivers work; and examining 3-D fish tracks on a computer.

When: Thursday, May 21, 2009, 7 a.m. – 12:15 p.m. with optional morning boat ride to observe the release of tagged fish, or 9:15 a.m. – 12:15 p.m. without the release.

Where: John Day Dam, near Rufus, Ore., plus a half-hour drive to a fish release site near Arlington, Ore., weather permitting.

How: Interested reporters should contact Franny White at 509-375-6904 or frances.white@pnl.gov by 4 p.m. on May 18, 2009 to confirm their attendance. To make a reservation, please provide your legal name, your job title, the name of the media outlet you work for, your preferred e-mail address and both your work and cell phone numbers. Due to space limitations on the boat, participation is limited to six members of the media.


The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is committed to the region's fish recovery program. Federal agencies responsible for river operations are the Corps, the Bureau of Reclamation and the Bonneville Power Administration. Thirteen stocks of salmon and steelhead in the Columbia and Snake river systems are listed as threatened or endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act.

Tags: Energy, Environment, Hydropower, Marine Research, Fish

Interdisciplinary teams at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory address many of America's most pressing issues in energy, the environment and national security through advances in basic and applied science. Founded in 1965, PNNL employs 4,300 staff and has an annual budget of about $950 million. It is managed by Battelle for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science. As the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States, the Office of Science is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information on PNNL, visit the PNNL News Center, or follow PNNL on Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn and Twitter.

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